“Let purpose be your bouncer. Let it decide what goes into your gathering and what stays out.”Priya Parker, The Art of Gathering
As I’m reading through The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker with an eye to developing corporate worship I’m finding all sorts of great ideas and tips on ways to elevate the experience and make it more engaging, more welcoming and more intentional. But, her most important lesson is also the most challenging: Choosing to gather with purpose.
And committing to gathering with purpose becomes really hard when she advises us to close doors! A seemingly ridiculous idea in a worship setting. But Parker insists; “The desire to keep doors open – to not offend, to maintain a future opportunity – is a threat to gathering with purpose.”
“You will have begun to gather with purpose when you learn to exclude with purpose. When you learn to close doors. I take no pleasure in exclusion, and I often violate my own rule. But thoughtful, considered exclusion is vital to any gathering, because over-inclusion is a symptom of deeper problems – above all, a confusion about why you are gathering and a lack of commitment to your purpose and your guests.”Priya Parker, The Art of Gathering
How can it be “generous” to exclude?
I guess I can understand in the context of a family gathering or a dinner party or an outing with a group of friends, a birthday party or particular celebration where only those who were intricately connected are invited. I can understand for a corporate meeting where certain input is welcome and needed and others may distract.
I can even understand it within the context of a small group where a certain amount of intimacy might be wanted. And, I suppose we do make decisions about whether or not children are present in a worship service (or a particular part of the service). We also make these kinds of choices to a degree when we choose worship “styles.”
Aren’t we supposed to be all things to all people?
But, then there’s that quote from Paul about being all things to all people (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Doesn’t that mean that all people should be invited? It does make sense to think about who you are trying to attract but should we consider active exclusion as well? Is there a case in which this could be generous both to those who are included and excluded?
Priya Parker suggests that it is ungenerous to include everyone. And, in fact when I read Paul’s full statement it becomes clear that he is, in fact, talking about being very specific, very purposeful and those choices would, as a result include some and exclude others.
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
The key is here that Paul becomes all things to all people but not all at the same time. Parker explains that by asking: “Who is this gathering for first?” you;
…shift your perception so that you understand that people who aren’t fulfilling the purpose of your gathering are detracting from it, even if they do nothing to detract from it. This is because once they are actually in your presence, you (and your other guests) will want to welcome and include them, which takes time and attention away from what (and who) you are actually there for.Priya Parker, The Art of Gathering
What Do You Think?
Is it even possible to exclude generously in worship? If we were clear and specific in our purpose for gathering as this community, in this worship setting, at this time, how are we being “ungenerous” by not closing doors?
Welcome to the conversation! This is the third in a series of blog posts designed to facilitate conversation and reflection on how we gather. Over the next 16 weeks, we will post reflections and questions on the How We Gather Reports and the book The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. The Convergence Study Group for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Vital Worship Grant will be actively engaged in the comments section and invite you to join us!